So often I write about corporate leaders who deliver bottom-line results to meet shareholder expectations, while demonstrating leadership principles that respect employees and customers. Today I want to highlight a politician who during her tenure demonstrated extraordinary leadership and elevated what is possible in this time of political turmoil.
In 2017 at the age of 37, Jacinda Ardern became the youngest prime minister in New Zealand’s history, and this week she resigned because she said it was time.
“I’m leaving because with such a privileged role comes responsibility,” Ardern said in her announcement. “The responsibility to know when you are the right person to lead and also when you are not. I know what this job takes. And I know that I no longer have enough in the tank to do it justice. It’s that simple.”
She certainly faced headwinds due to New Zealand’s economic turndown, but the abuse and threats she received had to weigh into her decision. Ardern also had a baby while in office and she stated wanting to be more involved in her daughter’s life was important as well.
“For my part, I want you to know that my overwhelming experience in this job—of New Zealand and New Zealanders, has been one of love, empathy and kindness,” she said. “That is what the majority of New Zealand has shown to me.”
Ardern accomplished a great deal while in office including:
- Delivered a world-leading response to COVID-19 by closing New Zealand’s borders
- Promoted unity and compassion after the March 2019 mosque terrorist attack
- Introduced key policies to lift the wellbeing of children and families
- Introduced a new public holiday to celebrate Matarik—the start of the Māori New Year
- Took action on climate change by leading towards a zero carbon future
- Launched New Zealand’s first Wellbeing Budget
- Being the first prime minister to march in a Pride parade
- Fought to close the gender pay gap
What I find most remarkable is what she stated in her final address regarding her legacy perhaps pointing to a direction other world leaders should take.
“I hope I leave New Zealanders with a belief that you can be kind, but strong, empathetic but decisive, optimistic but focused. And that you can be your own kind of leader – one who knows when it’s time to go,” Ardern said.
I can think of many world leaders who should take this to heart when weighing how to lead a country and when to exit a political career. The majority of U.S. citizens reported in a recent poll that they would prefer a candidate other than Joe Biden or Donald Trump to run for President in 2024. Even my 92-year-old mother can’t see how an octogenarian or septuagenarian can have enough left in the tank for such an important job.
“Women know when to step down … their egos are lower,” said Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, the World Trade Organization Director-General. She went on to say that Ardern set an example by stepping down after giving her best.
Jacinda Ardern is a remarkable leader. I’m hopeful more men and women will follow her exemplary leadership.